By Starrla Cray
COKATO, MN Public speaking is one of America’s biggest phobias, but many students at HOPE Homeschool Co-op in Cokato are comfortable in front of a crowd.
“Anticipating the speech is hard, but then you get out there and it’s fun,” said Abigail Nelson, one of nine students in this year’s competitive speech class.
Other participants include Mason Erickson, Wesley Erickson, Cherish Jorgensen, Jewels Jorgensen, Tyi LaZarre, Mathias Lee, Aunne Nyquist, and Scott Michael Sundblad.
This year is unique, according to teacher Anna Froemming, because almost all the kids enjoy their time in the spotlight. Typically, about half of students in any given year are apprehensive.
Anna knows firsthand what it’s like to be nervous in front of a group.
“My first speech was in college, and I was terrified,” she said.
Anna couldn’t have predicted that, years later, she’d be teaching a competitive speech class and traveling to multiple states for speech and debate tournaments with her family.
Her involvement began about 16 years ago, when her family was part of a homeschool co-op in Little Falls.
“My second-oldest, Lydia, was 12 at the time,” Anna recalled.
When Lydia heard that debate was being offered, she was immediately intrigued. Anna, on the other hand, was thinking, “Are you kidding? That sounds horrible.”
During the debate meeting, Anna waited in the car with her new baby, while Lydia and her older brother, Rian, got info about the program.
“When they came out, they had purchased the book and they were all excited,” Anna recalled.
‘Theatre of the mind’
After Lydia graduated, she started teaching speech and debate at various homeschool co-ops. Then, as Lydia became busy with young children, Anna used the curriculum to teach a class in Litchfield for one year.
“Someone found out, and asked if I’d be interested in teaching at HOPE Homeschool,” Anna said.
HOPE Homeschool meets every other Friday in Cokato, and consists of homeschool students from several communities. (Anna and her husband, Scott, currently live in Eden Valley.)
Anna’s class uses the guidelines of the National Christian Forensics and Communications Association (NCFCA), which equips students to think critically, and then articulate those thoughts.
Anna aims for a “fun and relaxed environment,” and uses games to help students feel more at ease. For one activity, three students each draw a “person, place, or thing” from a stack of cards. They then have one minute to confer before creating a scene together in front of class. Students from the audience then try to guess the words on the cards.
“Their final consists of an 8- to 10-minute memorized speech given at a mock tournament in front of a judge pool,” Anna said.
She noted that speech has been called the “theatre of the mind” because presenters engage their audience without the use of costumes or props.
If a child doesn’t participate in competitive speech, Anna encourages parents to find other ways for them to practice being in front of people.
All eight of Anna’s children (Rian, Lydia, Joseph, Mitchel, Ruth, Faith, Elsie, and Carl) have been involved in either speech or debate through the years.
While being interviewed for this article, she and her youngest two children were on their way to a speech tournament in Omaha, NE. Elsie and Carl both wrote speeches for the “originals” category, and had speeches prepared for the “open” category. They also performed a duo based on John Grisham’s book, “Skipping Christmas.”
In addition to providing practice and feedback, speech tournaments are a fun way to meet new people. The Froemmings often stay with host families, which makes the trips more affordable and enjoyable.
“We have friends all over the place,” Anna said.